Cemetery Without Crosses —which is known in France as Une Corde, Un Colt, (translated, A Rope, A Colt) but which is known in every other country in the world as whatever translates to Cemetery Without Crosses, because you know, THE FRENCH, is a late 1960s Western done in the style of Sergio Leone but written and directed by popular French actor Robert Hossein, who also stars in the film. The Leone influence is everywhere: in the framing of shots, the music, the storyline, the performances, and the stylized use of violence. In fact, Leone actually “guest directed” a single scene in the film, and was originally supposed to play a bit part.
Unlike a true Leone film, however, the whole of Cemetery Without Crosses never adds up to more than the sum of its parts. While aspects of the film are fascinating, this is another example of the old saying, “It knows the notes, but not the music.”
Cemetery Without Crosses comes across as a knowing Leone mishmash/pastiche/rip-off/tribute (mishtiche-ripute!) It is also a true existential Western. Parts of the film seem uncannily to have been directed by early 1960s genius wunderkind/king of boredom Michelangelo Antonioni. The film reminds its viewers again and again that violence is not the answer, yet settles every one of its characters’ problems with extreme violence.
The main reason to recommend this odd film—and I do recommend it, heartily—is the inspired cinematography by Henri Persin. Though dealing with subject matter that is ugly, this film is very beautiful to look at and every shot is a well-composed painting. The film opens in black and white and after the credits slowly goes to full color. It’s an effective choice; viewers get the impression of a history book full of early daguerreotypes being brought to life. At movies’ end, the image changes back to monochrome, as if the filmmakers are placing the events back into the past. I am not in the habit of recommending a film based solely on this one element, but as Martin Scorsese is fond of reminding us all… pictures! They’re called PICTURES!
My third quibble involves (sigh) Maria. Before viewing Cemetery Without Crosses and writing this column, I was unfamiliar with lead actress Michèle Mercier. I have since discovered that she has enjoyed a career in France spanning more than fifty years, and has worked with Francois Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Mario Bava. Mercier is so breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful here that it literally pulled me out of the film at several junctures. I froze the frame on the disc machine and 1) booked a flight to France on Expedia; 2) rehearsed the lie I would tell my wife about a “work thing” that I “had to go to” in “ugh, Paris” this month; 3) came to the soul-crushing realization that a glamorous international star like Mercier would want nothing to do with a washed-up, overweight English teacher who, even in his salad days, was nowhere near her league; 4) consoled myself with the fact that our never meeting somehow rendered our passionate love affair timeless and immortal, infused with an ethereal quality that, despite the vast ocean separating us, was surely deeply sensed by Michèle beneath the spangled black velvet of many a Paris night; and 5) pressed “play” on the remote and continued to watch the film. This sequence of events was actually repeated several times during my viewing of the film.
Here, listen for yourselves, babies:
As a public service to you, the reader, I present the lyrics to this song, so that you can, if you wish, sing along. Do it in your bedroom, office, or kitchen right now—sing loud! Practice singing this several times—I want all of my readers to join in a worldwide sing-along TODAY at 10:00am CST—Sing, babies, sing!
“I seek the man who killed my friend,
and when we meet my life may end.
My life depends upon my gun,
and my gun spells hope in the land
where the rope and the colt are king
I swore a vow on my dying breath
to ride a trail that ends in death,
and death could strike with a frightening jolt
of a lightning bolt in the land
where the rope and the colt are king
But oh my darling, if I should die,
there's not a soul who will ever know
that I loved you so—was the reason why
The days are dust and the nights are black,
but oh my darling if I get back
I'll trade my gun for a wedding ring,
and I'll turn my hand to the land
where the rope and the colt are king.”
I want to hear you all! Sing it like you mean it, you magnificent sons of bitches!
Cemetery Without Crosses is now available in a nifty Arrow Video 2K restoration from Amazon.com!
Wow you were very distracted indeed. Thank you for the interesting post. An interesting treatment of violence. Did it seem more plausible or realistic?ReplyDelete
I feel bad but I could never get into any spaghetti westerns (unless Silverado counts). I do love Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, though. Not sure why I adore one of his films and can't sit through the others.
This is unrelated but I was wondering if you ever read/taught/watched The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It's a little movie, not much visually but always sticks with me. I think things are going on in there that other stories don't like to talk about. It's so harsh...and good.
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a terrific film, certainly ahead of its time. It was on Turner Classic Movies just last week.Delete
Cool, thanks for your take, JB. It makes me really happy to hear coming from an English teacher/old movie buff. It had such an insightful screenplay. I think Jean Brodie is the most heartbreaking woman character I've known, and Sandy one of the most important. I love that she cries at the end.Delete
The fade to color // fade to monochrome is very interesting.ReplyDelete
Park Chan-wook tried something similar for Lady Vengeance. On the DVD release you have the option to watch Park's original cut, in which the entire film gradually fades to monochrome during its 2hr+ runtime. A fascinating choice, indeed.
I wonder why more notable directors have not utilized/experimented with this technique.
Wizard of Oz?Delete